Friday, 10 February 2017

Threads of ethnic exclusion in Nigerian Secondary Schools

I am only in the early stages of data collection in Nigeria and the student experiences I have heard so far are mind boggling and terrifying. Student experiences and learning are heavily influenced by their ethnicity and the stereotypes associated with their ethnic groups. There appears to be blatant discrimination against certain students by teachers, bullying by students and emotional abuse by school authorities especially when it comes to student grades. There is also a lot of variation in teaching and curriculum seems to be reinterpreted to suit the private school's agenda and absorb the power dynamics of the local community. Some highlights:

1) Almost every student (more than 500 so far) that filled out my questionnaire has said that they were severely punished (some were sent to detention!) or made to pay a fine when they spoke their indigenous languages in school. English was the superior language!

2) A "Hausa-Fulani" student I interviewed yesterday talked about the predominant perception in her Federal government school which suggested that Hausa students are not smart while the Igbos are deemed to be smart. So, whenever she/any hausa girl puts her hands up in class to answer a question, the teacher skips them and goes for the Igbo girl. When she gives a "chorus" (screams out) answer even when the Igbo student fails the question, she was punished. She talked about how this became a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst Hausa girls... their teachers did not expect more from them, so they did not bother.

3) The Igbo girl that I interviewed today attended a high cost catholic private school in the East - she talked about how she was taught in an insular way, as if the best identity one could be is Catholic and Igbo. So students who were not Igbo felt excluded in the school. Even though you are not Catholic, you were forced to do all the Catholic norms. 

4) The last two students I interviewed today were from Kogi and Akwa Ibom. They attended high cost private schools in Abuja and they talked about the intense bullying non-Hausa's experienced in school. They talked about how "cliquey" the Hausa students were in their school and how they always spoke Hausa and outrightly tried to castigate anyone they thought was Igbo or simply not Hausa. To belong was to speak Hausa. Even the teachers spoke Hausa to the students but the male participant said when he tried to speak his indigenous language with his brother, he was shunned. The girl shared an experience where a Hausa classmate came to her to tell her that she hated Igbos,thinking she was Igbo... but she is Igala. I asked why they didn't report these issues, they said teachers/adminstration ignored these issues simply because of who they thought their parents were or trivialized it as student banter. The participant from Akwa Ibom said that things got out of hand in his school that a bloody fight broke out after exams between non-Hausa's vs. Hausas. 

5) My participant who is from Akwa Ibom shared that a teacher said something very offensive about Akwa Ibom people. He reported to the principal and the teacher got fired. But he believes that the teacher got fired simply because of who they thought his father was.

6) One of my participants went to a Foreign (e.g Chinese, Turkish, Japanese) Nigerian secondary school - she talked about how they were mandated to learn the foreign language ( not english or French, e.g. Chinese, Turkish, Japanese) till SS2 but questioned why Nigerian languages were stopped at JSS2. She says that they also had to sing the anthem of the country everyday. 

7) My last two interviewees were neither Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba - even though Nigerian languages was offered, non of theirs was an option. The female participant said she felt like another line in the school's balance sheet. 

These is so much to say about these experiences..but what is clear is that our schools are clearly a microcosm of the Nigerian society. All the divisions that play out in broader society is alive and well in our schools and amongst our teenagers. When I asked my last two participants how secondary school prepared them for life after school - they said their secondary school showed them who to relate and not relate with... This is so so sad. The decolonizing and anti-colonial imperative of educational change in Nigeria is made clear in these student accounts. We Nigerians must gather ourselves together and choose justice and inclusion for all as mainstays in our union. Afterwards, we must develop a mandatory decolonial course that seeks to unify secondary students through their indigenous histories to interrogate these perceptions students/teachers have, show what we have have in common while affirming each others rights to be different. We must put English in its rightful place - as a foreign Language! Students need to be made to understand that English is a language of communication and not necessarily of their culture. English should not be presented as superior to other languages. Students should not be punished for speaking their indigenous language!!! And of course, the parents/homes - we need a decolonization and healing retreat for our parents..Parent Teachers Associations's must be retooled to deal with these issues and help parents teach their kids better and demand that their schools open the minds of their children, And teacher training must be REVAMPED!! 

I am meeting more students who are Muslim tomorrow.. I am looking forward to sharing the experiences I have heard so far with them.

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